Government Sponsored Cyber Attacks
After what was reportedly a year-long attack on South Korea government systems, North Korea appears to have stolen 40,000 documents including blueprints for US F-15 fighter jet wings. The Defense Ministry has reported that these documents werenâ€™t classified, and North Korean hackers donâ€™t seem to have any plans to use the documents, but this event is another indication that attacks on governments will continue to increase.
The shift from military action to cyber attacks makes sense for many governments as the latter is much more cost-effective and less risky. An entire offensive cybersecurity program can be funded for the cost of a single ICBM. It is cheaper, less likely to cause international retaliation, and it can be highly effective in either disabling select targets or gaining access to highly confidential documentation from enemy countries.
The exact target of North Koreaâ€™s attack remains unclear. While attackers were able to take control of servers and workstations, they did not take any apparent further action. They did, however, steal several documents and materials that were stored on the network. It is likely that all of these actions were performed in preparation for a bigger attack.
Since tensions have been increasing between North and South Korea, it is worthwhile to consider the cost of a missile launch compared to the launch of a strategic cyber attack. A missile not only costs millions or billions of dollars, but it is also very likely to cause a retaliation from the hit country and its allies. A cyber attack can do damage and allow the attacker to gain access to sensitive data for a fraction of the cost with even exploits for critical unknown vulnerabilities only costing up to millions of dollars. It further doesnâ€™t have the severe consequences of military action, since the attacking country can quite easily deny the attack. Furthermore, cyberattacks are not codified in the majority of defense treaties, meaning that any joint responses are unlikely.
Due to all of these factors, we predict that both the number of cyber attacks against governmental targets as well as state-sponsorship of such attacks will see a sharp increase in the coming years.